New York’s First Sake Brewery is From Brooklyn
Young urbanites at Brooklyn Kura are not toasting with Chardonnay, but sake—the traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage made from rice.
But this sake is brewed on site in the trendy New York borough from American rice and New York City tap water.
The first sake to debut from the Big Apple, the brew is the brainchild of biochemist Brandon Doughan and former American Express marketing executive Brian Polen, who met at a mutual friend’s wedding in Japan five years ago.
Smitten by sake, they each tinkered with homebrews before leaving their jobs two years ago to launch Brooklyn Kura. There, Doughan mixes a fungus to ferment the rice along with water and yeast.
“I moved from Portland, Oregon, where we have very pristine water, and I thought, we’re moving to the largest city in the country, I’m going to have to heavily filter the water,” Doughan said.
“But it turns out, you know, New York has a protected watershed in upstate New York, in the Catskills, and that pristine water comes into New York. And it’s delicious. It’s on the softer side, which causes the yeast to struggle a little bit. It doesn’t have all the nutrients it needs. And when the yeast struggles a little bit, it tends to produce more aromatic characters.”
Brooklyn Kura produces several types of premium sake known as junmai ginjo and junmai. A bottle costs roughly $30, and a glass $10.
Doughan and Polen opened a tap room in March to educate Americans on how to appreciate sake. They deliberately serve the beverage it in something familiar—wine glasses, instead of small sake cups.
“I like this sake. It’s nice and crisp and clean. It’s pretty good,” said Ninart Amaraphorn, a video engineering manager who is familiar with sake.
Adam Hill, a chef, envisions food pairings.
“There’s a lot of potential, I think, for a food other than just sushi or just Japanese food. I think there’s a lot of potential for crossover, different items for sure,” he said.
Polen will drink to that.
“We want people to recognize that sake has many of the same qualities as fine wine and craft beer. It has a complexity, richness, history, the skill required to produce it—and I think that it also has the pairability. So ultimately, sake is something that presents food exceptionally well,” he said.
Around 20 local restaurants and liquor stores now stock Brooklyn Kura’s sake.
Doughan and Polen aim to sell about 3,600 bottles a month within a half year and ramp that up to 6,600 over the next few years, as they try to quickly master the art of brewing a centuries-old beverage involving manufacturing skills that in Japan are passed on from generation to generation.